documentary filmmaking

6 Environmental Documentaries to Watch on Earth Day

For nearly fifty years, Earth Day has been celebrated worldwide to demonstrate a commitment to environmental protection. Originally, environmental issues ranged from cleaning up air pollution and acid rain to safety oversight over fossil fuel companies. The last few years has seen more of a concern of global climate change and the wide-ranging effects warming and acidifying oceans will have on both weather and sociopolitical dynamics around the world.

Environmental topics have been the focus of countless films, including narrative disaster films like Waterworld and The Day After Tomorrow, which sees the world overtaken by everything from giant tornados to tsunamis that freeze over. Even Pixar film WALL-E features a garbage-covered Earth that is no longer habitable to life.

Perhaps the most interesting environmental films of all are the true ones though—documentaries that portray the delicate balance of natural life on the planet, and all the ways society can upset that balance.

Here are just a few documentaries you can check out this Earth Day:

The 11th Hour

Directed by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, The 11th Hour gained a lot of buzz when it was realized for its association with producer, co-writer, narrator, and creator of the film—Hollywood megastar and noted environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. The 2007 film interviews a murderer’s row of scientists, politicians, and activists, and places a focus on the myriad problems that pose dangerous threats to the planet, while offering possible solutions that are just as varied in their strategy.

Our Planet

The high profile docuseries Our Planet is Netflix’s own take on the Planet Earth series—Netflix went as far as working with Planet Earth producers Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, and hiring David Attenborough to narrate this series as well. Each of the eight episodes of the series focuses on a specific part of the planet, from seas to deserts to forests and everything in between. The docuseries has become event television this spring, with an early Hollywood screening in February moderated by NYFA Acting for Film alum Lana Condor giving Our Planet some early buzz.

Everything’s Cool

Everything’s Cool was directed by Dan Gold and Judith Helfand and was first shown at Sundance in 2007. Unlike many other environmental films, the documentary focuses more on the politics and public perception of climate change, rather than the science behind it. This important angle is especially key at a time when the world’s scientists have come to a consensus that action needs to be taken to prepare and respond to climate change, while the laws and practices of nations and private corporations have yet to catch up.

Gasland

The 2010 film Gasland was directed by Josh Fox and showcased harrowing footage of local families dealing with the disastrous effects of corporate fracking—the process of stimulating natural gas production by injecting the ground with copious amounts of liquid chemicals. The film made fracking a hot button issue to this day, and brought to light some of the shocking side effects of the drilling method, such as water coming out of kitchen sink taps that could be lit on fire with a match.

An Inconvenient Truth

The 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth helped kickstart the latest wave of environmental activism, as well as a slew of environmental documentaries that followed in its wake. Based around a slideshow given by former Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore, the film focuses on carbon dioxide’s effect on climate change, and won two Academy Awards for its efforts—Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song.

Koyaanisqatsi

Koyaanisqatsi is an experimental film directed by Godfrey Reggio from 1982, with a score by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke, who mostly used slow motion and time-lapse footage of both urban areas and natural landscapes. The avant garde film is very much open for interpretation, allowing its viewers to lose themselves in its sometimes haunting imagery and music. While nothing is told outright to the audience, the relationship between humanity, technology, and nature is clearly the focus of the film, raising questions about how these connections affect the world around us and will affect the world around us for decades to come.

With every passing Earth Day, these questions are becoming more important than ever.

Our 2018 BAFTA Predictions

While the Oscars are still a few weeks away, the 71st British Academy Film Awards are finally upon us. The ceremony will be hosted by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley on February 18, at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall.

The BAFTAs are one of the major award shows of the season. Because so many actresses, actors, and filmmakers come from the United Kingdom, the nominations and winners often overlap with many of the Golden Globe and Oscar categories. However, because the Academy is made up of different voters, sometimes the results can be wildly different.

Here then are the nominees for some of the major categories, along with our best guesses at who will be taking home the BAFTA award bronze mask statue this weekend — though like always, anything can happen.

The BAFTA Award
Leading Actress
Annett Bening – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Our Predicted WINNER: Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

While Margot Robbie is considered the favorite for the Oscar in this category due to her stellar performance in the wildly enjoyable I, Tonya — the story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan isn’t as much of a cultural milestone outside of the United States. This may give the edge to Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, star of Lady Bird, a film with near perfect critical acclaim.

Leading Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kayluuya – Get Out
Jamie Bell – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Timothee Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Our Predicted WINNER: Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

It’s hard to bet against Daniel Day-Lewis, especially in a thoroughly British role that may also be his last. But Winston Churchill is about as legendary as you can get in Great Britain, and Oldman’s performance as the Prime Minister in his finest moments has already won several awards.


Supporting Actress

Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Kristin Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour
Laurie Metcalfe – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
Our Predicted WINNER: Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread

While Day-Lewis may not win, his co-star Lesley Manville certainly has a good shot just for being able to go head-to-head with him in several scenes, matching his intensity and emotional subtlety every time.

Phantom Thread

Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread

Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Hugh Grant – Paddington 2
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There’s a lot of momentum behind Sam Rockwell this season for his complex performance as a bigoted cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That momentum might be too much for any of the other very talented actors in this category, including co-star Woody Harrelson.


EE Rising Star Award

Daniel Kaluuya
Florence Pugh
Josh O’Connor
Timothee Chalamet
Our Predicted WINNER: Tessa Thompson

Daniel Kaluuya made a huge splash with his haunting starring role in Get Out, but we’ve got to give the edge to Tessa Thompson, the talented American actress who is quickly becoming an A-list movie star thanks to her scene-stealing performance in Thor: Ragnarok.

Tessa Thompson

Tessa Thompson

Editing
Baby Driver – Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Blade Runner 2049 – Joe Walker
The Shape Of Water – Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Jon Gregory
Our Predicted WINNER: Dunkirk – Lee Smith

The editing in all of this year’s nominees was impressive, but Dunkirk’s style was a crucial part of the narrative — telling the evacuation of Dunkirk in three distinct timelines cut back-and-forth. The epic World War II film will probably come away with at least one award this weekend, and odds are it’ll be this one.


Special Visual Effects

Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War For The Planet Of The Apes
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water is essentially a classic romance tale, except one of the romantic leads is a computer generated seven-foot fish creature. By making the character not only believable but emotionally relatable, the special effects team for The Shape of Water more than proved they’re worthy of this year’s award.


Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049 – Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour – Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk – Hoyte van Hoytema
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Ben Davis
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape Of Water – Dan Laustsen

Blade Runner 2049 is a dark horse in both the Special Effects and Cinematography categories for its fully realized portrayal of a near-future America, but The Shape of Water will probably come ahead in both. The film is a visual marvel in multiple ways, and slides between multiple styles and genres with ease.


Adapted Screenplay

Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin & David Schneider – The Death Of Stalin
Matt Greenhalgh – Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Simon Farnaby & Paul King – Paddington 2
Our Predicted WINNER: James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name

Paddington 2 is a smash success and both Aaron Sorkin and Armando Iannucci are screenwriting legends, but Call Me By Your Name manages to adapt the 2007 novel of the same name in a way that preserves all its raw emotion that audiences can’t help but be affected by.


Original Screenplay

Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Rogers – I, Tonya
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird

Gerwig is making history as only the fifth woman nominated for a Best Director Oscar, and her film Lady Bird is easily considered one of the best of the year. It’s had a tougher time at the BAFTAs, so if the overall film gets recognized it’ll have to be here for its remarkable screenplay.

Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Animated Film
Loving Vincent
My Life As A Courgette
Our Predicted WINNER: Coco

All three films are visual works of art, but it’s hard to bet against Pixar and their soulful, supernatural masterpiece about a 12-year-old boy trapped in the land of the dead.


Documentary

City Of Ghosts
I Am Not Your Negro
Icarus
An Inconvenient Sequel
Our Predicted WINNER: Jane

Primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall is a hero and legend to naturists and to her fellow Britons alike. Jane, the 2017 documentary about Goodall, has already picked up several festival and critics awards and will probably get the BAFTA as well.


Outstanding British Film

Darkest Hour
Death Of Stalin
God’s Own Country
Lady Macbeth
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Paddington 2

There might not be anything more loved and more British than Paddington 2, a film with a rare 100% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. While all of the other nominees could win as well, especially Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards or the Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour, the world really needed an adorable teddy bear in a raincoat —again— and Paddington 2 delivered.

Paddington 2

Paddington 2

Director
Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Luca Guadagnino – Call Me By Your Name
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water leads the BAFTA nominations with twelve total — and it takes a masterful director to bring all of these nominated elements together into a fantastical tour-de-force. Guillermo del Toro already picked up a Golden Globe for his efforts, and while his competition is stiff, he’ll most likely pick up a BAFTA as well — even if the film falls short in other categories.


Best Film

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape of Water



It cannot be overstated just how important the Second World War is to modern Britain, and both films in this category dealing with the subject —Dunkirk and Darkest Hour — do so in masterful ways. For different reasons, Call Me By Your Name and Three Billboards have connected with and sparked conversation for their audiences. But The Shape of Water has a slight advantage over its competition with its overwhelming amount of nominations this year, as well as its perfectly executed fairy tale with just enough of a twist to make it unique. It doesn’t hurt that avid movie buff Guillermo del Toro also managed to make the film a love letter to cinema. Look for this film to take home the biggest BAFTA of them all.

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

SERVICE INDUSTRY: How to Work with Cinematographers

“What can I do for you?”  

The above question is the first thing I ask my director.  You, the director, answering it ensures that you’ll get the most out of me – your cinematographer or DP (director of photography).  

Before you meet with your cinematographer, you should have a good grasp of what the film is about and the story you want to tell. What do you want your documentary to look like? Start with visual references (documentaries, narrative films, still photos, paintings, etc.) ready to show and discuss. After reading the script or treatment, it’s the first thing a cinematographer will want to talk about.

As a visual artist, my job is to translate words and concepts into images. Cinematographers bring loads of ideas to the table. Once I know what a film is about, I shift into visual hyper-drive.  

In the meetings — there will be more than one — you’ll want to discuss the tone of the movie:  Should it be pretty or gritty? Formally composed or “fly-on-the-wall?” Some handheld work perhaps? Why? Will the subject matter benefit from cool, somber tones, or warm, inviting colors?  

Once you’ve discussed tone, your documentary film is well on its way to visual coherence. Some directors just like to chat and pull up images to discuss. Others spend a considerable amount of time preparing a lookbook. Either is okay. It’s whatever works for you.

The style of your film is comprised of more technical questions – the different modes of documentary (See Bill Nichols “6 Modes of Documentary”) beg for different approaches.

Some questions to answer for yourself and communicate to the DP:

  • What lenses will best depict the characters?
  • Is the style up close and personal or are we taking a long view?
  • Will the interviews take place in a home, a workplace, or some neutral ground?  
  • Are you thinking formal compositions, or something more edgy?  
  • If there are re-creations, will they be stylized or realistic?
  • Finally, and not least important, you’ll want to discuss visual metaphors and transitions that serve to link the sequences.  

But what about “shooting from the hip,” some will ask? Let me share an experience I had in the field.

A while back, I was starting a documentary television series that, in addition to archival footage, involved interviews, re-creations, and establishing shots. In pre-production, we spent some time discussing the re-creations, but the director and producer weren’t ready to discuss overall tone. I knew it would come back to haunt us.

On day one, our first interviewee waited patiently while we went back and forth about the location, then the background, then the lighting. It was decided the lighting should be soft with strong contrast. It became the interview tone for the show. We met later to clarify things going forward and avoid further embarrassment of the interviewees watching a confused approach.  There were new challenges for sure, but the solutions were more intuitive for me because the tone and style were set.

The DP is the director’s confidante, the “ace-in-the-hole,” the side-kick to the superhero. But most importantly, he/she is the director’s collaborator, who wants to help make the best documentary film possible. To do that, communication is key.

Ready to learn more about documentary filmmaking? Check out the New York Film Academy’s Documentary School.

Written by Carl Bartels. Bartels is a director and cinematographer whose credits include “Taken,” “The Fantastic Four,” and “Greedy Lying Bastards.”

10 Documentary Essentials


Today’s 21st century documentary filmmaker has more tools than ever available to them. The cameras are smaller and offer higher resolution. The audio equipment is smaller and hears better than ever. Editing software is intuitive and easy to learn and use. Those are the sort of broad stroke items which are essential to successful documentary film shooting.

Documentary film crews are significantly smaller than a narrative feature crew. This means everybody on a doc crew should know how to operate all the gear, and be able to take on any job in a pinch.

This article is not about any of that stuff. Instead, it’s about the smaller things you will need along your journey to becoming a documentary filmmaker.

Here are 10 absolute must-haves on any shoot, the base minimum for professional-level work.

  1. Flashlight – You never know when you will be in low light conditions or the dark, wrapping after a shoot, prepping before a shoot, lost a nut, somebody else lost their phone … you get the idea. The point is that a flashlight is an essential tool for every filmmaker.
  2. Hat – When you are outside shooting in the sun a hat is another piece of essential equipment, and it can help in a light rain too. It keeps you cooler and keeps the sun out of your eyes. I recommend a full brimmed hat, rather than a baseball cap, to protect the back of your neck. Keep $20 hidden in the crown for emergencies.
  3. Belt – I like to wear a belt so that my tool pouch is always where I expect it to be. I can clip various items to my belt (see glove clip) including my flashlight. It provides easy access to immediate use items, and allows hands free carrying, and frees up your pockets for items best kept secure. Holds up my pants too.
  4. Sturdy Shoes – these are one of the best investments you can make. On the set you will be on your feet for long periods. Having good shoes will save your feet, make you more comfortable, and protect you from injury. A foot injury can keep you off the set for weeks, if not months.
  5. Gloves – Good leather work gloves are an inexpensive insurance policy against hand injuries and burns.
  6. Glove Clip – this holds your gloves on your belt for immediate and easy access.
  7. Pouch – I would say that a First AC pouch is best. If you have so much stuff that a First AC pouch is too small you have too much stuff to carry.
  8. Pen – see below.
  9. Paper – A pocket-size notebook will allow you to take notes and record details. Yes, this is an old school, analog way of making notes, but phone batteries run out and writing things down imprints them into your memory. Think of it as a way to cross-check the work. Documentary filmmaking is, by its nature, an exploration — with plenty of room for extemporaneous events. Record new questions and ideas as they come up to help you make your documentary the best it can be.
  10. An iron-clad plan and the ability to adapt it to changing circumstances – One of the most important things you can bring to your documentary shoot is an open mind and insatiable curiosity about your subjects, and finding the truth of the story. You should have a plan (and a point-of-view, of course). You should know about how long you expect to spend interviewing that person, or shooting that activity. Your research will have given you a strong foundation of what to expect and where your documentary is going. But don’t be so rigid in your preconceived agenda that you aren’t open to unexpected new information, or serendipitous occurrence in the field. It is better to have the footage and not need it, than to turn away and wish you had it later in the editing room.

 

Want to know what else you’ll need to know on a professional set? Learn documentary filmmaking at New York Film Academy.

Written by James Coburn

6 American Documentary Film Funding Programs to Consider

Documentary films are generally far less expensive than fiction, but they do have a price tag.

Luckily, funding opportunities abound for the documentary filmmaker. Crowdfunding is especially successful for documentaries. And with a clear artistic vision, an articulate artist statement, and a team that you can call on when opportunity knocks, you may be in a good place to secure nonprofit or foundation funding. For some, you may need a fiscal sponsor, which is essentially any 501c3 organization that agrees to sponsor your project — there are also 501c3s with a specific mission to fiscally sponsor film funding. Often, it’s a great alternative to starting your own nonprofit, which allows you to seek grants and solicit tax-deductible donations under your sponsor’s exempt status.

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As a general piece of advice, be patient and get organized! These programs can be tedious to apply to, with a lot of competition. Funders don’t just hand over money to anyone with a good idea. We all have one! Each application takes time and precision, but the payoff can be significant.

Many countries have funding set aside for film. And some of the American funders are open to a production from any country!

So take out your calendar and start thinking about which materials you need to compile, in order to meet program requirements and deadlines.

Get your story told!

ITVS Open Call

Independent Television Station (ITVS) is one of the biggest players when it comes to funding documentaries, but applicants take note: this is not a grant. ITVS acts as a co-producer, investing in your film and providing creative development, feedback, and in some cases, the publicity and marketing needed to help get your film seen. They’ll also work on your behalf with public television programmers to get your film programmed on their networks.

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To date, ITVS has funded 533 films, with each one receiving an award of $150,000 to $350,000.  Many have aired on PBS series like Independent Lens, POV, American Masters and Frontline.

With the next deadline in February, this is one program that can certainly offer a great reward if you can take the time to complete the application, which generally, can take 1-2 weeks.

And if you don’t get accepted the first time, keep applying. Persistence rules the game!

(Check out the ITVS Diversity Development Fund and Digital Open Call while you’re there)

Jerome Foundation

Started in 1964 by artist and philanthropist Jerome Hill, The Jerome Foundation offers production grants, of up to $30,000 for emerging film, digital production and video directors who reside in NYC or Minnesota.

These grants support specific projects, and only production and post-production expenses (not pre-production, marketing or distribution costs) are supported. Deadline is August 24th.

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BONUS

The Jerome Foundation also has a Travel and Study Grant Program which, for the 2018 cycle, will support emerging artists who create new work in dance, film/video/digital production, and literature. This program is meant to provide support to periods of domestic and/or international travel for study, exploration and growth.

So if you are still in the development stage, for example, where you are deciding which questions to ask in your documentary, who is best to answer them, and perhaps, how to give your story a definitive arc, this program may be well suited to helping fund this critical period. Eligible activities include preliminary research, the development of collaborations (whether artistic or organizational), taking part in specific non-academic training programs, time for reflection and individualized study, and field investigation.

Deadline is Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 4:30 pm Central/5:30 pm Eastern.

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Catapult Film Fund

Catapult Film Fund offers grants for up to $20,000 each and requires both a written and online application. Meant to catapult filmmakers’ careers, funds are intended to help in the crucial next steps in the development of films, which include a first shoot and editing pieces for production fundraising. Once accepted, recipients also have access to an informal mentorship program with Catapult’s co-founders, particularly in areas that include story development, production process, fundraising and distribution strategy.

This is definitely one of those funding programs that will require you to have a fiscal sponsor, as Catapult will only make grants to 501(c)(3) organizations.

National Endowment for the Humanities

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National Endowment for the Humanities (or NEH) offers a media production grant with an application deadline coming up on August 9th. Meant to support projects that engage general audiences in the humanities such as history, art history, film studies, literature, drama, religious studies, philosophy, or anthropology, grants help filmmakers inspire their audiences to explore the broader significance of pertinent issues. Projects can be short form or broadcast-length video.

Filmmakers with programs intended to encourage cross-cultural and international collaboration with scholars based in the U.S or abroad, can also receive support by working with an international media team. While partnerships should address broad cross-cultural perspectives on proposed topics, they should be geared primarily to a U.S. audience.

BONUS (again!)

NEH also offers a development grant for film projects with the same August 9th deadline. And while these are just two grant programs, NEH has an online database which allows you to search for a plethora of grant opportunities that may better suit your subject and the current stage of your project.

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New York Foundation for the Arts

With a longstanding commitment to supporting artists from diverse cultural backgrounds at all stages of their professional careers, the New York Foundation for the Arts’ (also known as NYFA, just like us!) grant cycle is also one to look at. In 2017, NYFA awarded 92 grants to 95 awardees with 3 collaborations totaling an amount of $644,000.

NYFA Artist Fellowships, are awarded in fifteen different disciplines over a three-year period, with $7,000 cash awards made to NYS or NYC based artists for unrestricted use. While these fellowships are not project grants, they are meant to fund an artist’s vision or voice, regardless of the artist’s development level.

Notable alumni of the NYFA fellowship include Junot Diaz, Tony Kushner, Suzan Lori-Parks, and Spike Lee. Application period opens in fall 2017.

New York Foundation for the Arts also will act as a fiscal sponsor for selected projects.

Fledgling Fund

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With an open rolling application process, Fledgling Fund offers grants to support outreach and engagement for documentary films that have the potential to inspire positive social change on some of the most critical social issues.

The filmmaker must complete an online application with a project description and its goals for social change. Generally, films must at least have a rough cut.

While grants typically range from $10K – $25K, Fledgling supports strategy building for outreach and engagement and can also be used for a project that is already complete and is ready for launch. Grants are NOT available to support production or post-production.

And they make it very clear: the film must in some way inspire, educate, and mobilize audiences to create positive social change. To apply, filmmakers must have a fiscal sponsor.

Are there any other documentary film funding opportunities we neglected to include on this list? Let us know in the comments!

 

4 Groundbreaking Documentary Films to Note

Most of us consume quite a lot of TV and Netflix, and we tend to think of cinema as a means of entertainment. But the visual storytelling medium of film is capable of so much more, and there’s a dearth of real life stories and authentic and diversified representations of people on screen. This is where the documentary comes in. A documentary film is more than just educational non-fiction film: a well-made documentary can move the viewer as much as an Oscar-winning narrative film. Whether you’re a cinephile or a budding film maker, watching documentaries is an integral aspect of understanding how the cinematic medium works as well as for exploring its full potential.

Here are some groundbreaking documentaries that you just can’t miss.

1. “Super Size Me” (2004)

Directed by Morgan Spurlock, this film is built on a very interesting premise: Morgan decides to eat only McDonald’s food for 30 days straight! From Feb. 1 to March 2, 2003, he ate at a McDonald’s outlet three times a day, consuming around 5000 calories per day.

Given the rising obesity rates, the movie is an eye-opening look at how dangerous junk food is for one’s physical and mental health. It took Morgan over a year to lose all the weight he gained from the experiment. The movie was so successful it was nominated for an Oscar, and a comic book based on it has been released.

2. “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004)

The highest-grossing documentary film of all time, “Fahrenheit 9/11 ,” directed by Michael Moore, takes a cold hard look at the presidency of George W. Bush — especially the invasion of Iraq and the worldwide damage and chaos it caused. Coupled with intelligent humor and investigative journalism, the film displays a nuanced critical analysis of the situation.

Fahrenheit 9/11 made over $150 million. Among its many accomplishments, the film prompted several controversies, won the Palm D’Or, received a 20-minute standing ovation at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, and also featuired a cameo by Britney Spears. The movie’s title is of course a reference to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” thereby ironically putting everything into perspective.

3. “Waltz With Bashir” (2008)

This autobiographical war film by Ari Folman is important for its innovative and heart-wrenching way of tackling its subject: the 1982 Lebanon War. Given that the documentary medium is primarily associated with realism, the film eschews the use of real people to talk about their experiences. Instead, most of the film is narrated via animation which has a gritty, graphic novel feel. When real footage is inserted in the narrative, suddenly, it hits you like a ton of bricks.

The style of the film not only challenges the traditional expectations of a documentary film, it also artistically conveys that some things are so violent and so depraved that it’s impossible to show them as they are.

4. “The Square” (2013)

A three-time Emmy Award-winner, this film depicts the ongoing crisis in Egypt. Marked by gritty cinematography, it begins with the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 at Tahrir Square and showcases the daily reality that most of us tend to turn a blind eye to. Over 500 hours of footage was edited to make this film.

And we have another reason for you to watch it: this groundbreaking political documentary was shot and co-produced by New York Film Academy graduate Muhammad Hamdy! For his remarkable work, Hamdy won an Emmy for Best Cinematography.

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Now that’s inspirational!

This list is just scratching the surface, but it should give you an idea of how diverse, original and experimental the documentary genre is, using a myriad of styles and techniques to critically and innovatively show audiences dynamic, true stories that may otherwise go unnoticed.

So if you’re looking to take a filmmaking class at NYFA, why not give documentary filmmaking a shot?

 

How Netflix Documentaries Are Changing the Industry

It’s hard to imagine that almost 20 years ago, you could find a red envelope nestled in the depths of your mailbox. There’s a chance you’d rip open the small package to see which DVD was hiding in its Netflix sleeve.

In 1997, Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings founded Netflix in Scotts Valley, California. Netflix — now with more than 80 million DVD and online streaming subscribers — is continuing to change today’s market.  

The New York Film Academy’s filmmaking school has ranked as the top filmmaking school for the last eight years. It has also been listed in the Top 10 Academic Programs for Documentary Filmmakers in “Independent Magazine.”

Well-rounded industry experts teach students in the filmmaking school artistic and professional skills. Our students will face practical challenges, opportunities, and realities when they are creating films in the documentary filmmaking program.

Where is Netflix in today’s market?

As of March 2017, Netflix has created original films and television series in genres including drama; comedy; animation; animated and live action movies for children and families; foreign language; in partnership; continuations; docu-series and documentaries; reality; talk shows; specials and stand-up comedies. The company even has acquisitions in exclusive international television distribution.

Michael Lev-Ram of “Fortune” wrote in June 2016 that Netflix ranked No. 379 on the Fortune 500 list. The company, which has focused on streaming media the last few years, isn’t required to disclose viewership numbers and the Netflix originals don’t show up in Nielsen ratings. The Fortune 500 ranking and the audience’s reaction to a show doesn’t really concern Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix.

“Great storytelling is what makes something really global,” Sarandos said during the interview with “Fortune.” At the end of the day, it’s about how many subscribers sign up for streaming services, not rankings or ratings.

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In April 2016, Netflix announced that the company had seen an increase of 35 percent in subscribers after it had passed its 81-million-subscriber mark. Forty-two percent of Netflix’s current customers are outside of the U.S. but Sarandos still considers Netflix a small company.

Netflix Documentaries

The selection of Netflix documentaries and docu-series has increased rapidly over the last few years. As of April, there are more than 50 documentaries available on Netflix—ranging from true crimes stories like H.H. Holmes to crises in the healthcare system. Netflix documentaries and docu-series are redefining the definition—they are not boring and they boast some pretty big names.

One new documentary, “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On,” is available for streaming on April 21. The documentary series follows people and their lives, which are affected, by social media, pornography and virtual relationships. Sex and technology in today’s age highlight the fact that both are equally important in how most live and interact.  

“Five Came Back,” based on Mark Harris’ book, is Netflix’s newest documentary, which focuses on five men who put aside their careers, families, and their safety to join the fight against Imperial Japan. Meryl Streep narrates the documentary and Steven Spielberg is the executive producer.

Documentary Filmmaking at NYFA

Our documentary filmmaking program at NYFA focuses on subjects such as sound; cinematography and lightning; producing and directing the documentary; editing; new media/self-distribution; writing/non-fiction storytelling; producing; documentary craft; documentary traditions and aesthetics; production; post-production; and graphics, special effects, and color correction.   

Netflix has demonstrated that it aims to have great storytelling. The company is focusing on documentaries that will be more interesting for the audience. In order to do that though, Netflix has had to bring in larger names to help hold interest. One thing is for sure, Netflix will continue to dominate the media streaming industry, but its list of documentaries will surpass its other content without a doubt.

What is your favorite Netflix documentary? Let us know below! If you’re ready to learn more about documentary filmmaking, check out NYFA’s documentary filmmaking program offerings.

How to Reconcile Personal Bias in Your Documentary Film

Is your bias getting in the way of your documentary? In documentary filmmaking, your opinion can enrich your creation with information and insight, but it can also hinder it if not at least considered. When filming a documentary, it’s important to reconcile your personal bias with the topic at hand. Reconciling your bias may not only expand your viewpoint, but may help to enrich the perspective you’re trying to convey to your audience. Learn how to balance your viewpoint with other perspectives and information out there. Your documentary will thank you for it!

What is a bias?

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According to Google, a bias is a “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” For instance, you may have a bias towards a certain political party due to your pre-existent beliefs and opinions surrounding subjects like gay marriage or gun rights. Consider details of your background and experiences as predisposition towards certain points of view. Depending on your documentary’s topic, it may or may not reflect your personal bias.

What are your biases and how did they form?

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It’s important to be aware of where your biases come into play and how they can help or hinder your film. First, you must have a clear understanding of your own viewpoint. You may come from a demographic that is involved in and impacted by a topic covered in your documentary. For instance, it wouldn’t be surprising for a medicaid recipient doing a documentary on health care to be in favor of public health care versus privatized health care. Details like these factor into biases.

Here’s how you can get around your bias.

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There may be nothing wrong with your opinion, but you cannot let it minimize your documentary’s focus in any way. Naturally, the audience is going to wonder about the other side of the topic at hand. Give your audience information that allows them to think critically and draw their own conclusions. For instance, if you’re doing a documentary on the health care crisis, you could try to include information about privatized healthcare. Interviewing a representative from a private healthcare company would accomplish this while not straying from the focus of your documentary. You want to balance your perspective with footage and facts that broaden your viewers’ perspective.

Your documentary is presenting a perspective to your audience. It’s up to you what that perspective is.

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When you reconcile your biases, you can refine your opinion in a way that strengthens and expands it. Researching arguments that differ from your own can help you a lot. Let the audience think for themselves and make sure your documentary gives them the information they need to be able to do that. Give them facts to consider that ultimately amount to your documentary’s purpose. After all, your audience has their own biases they will have to reconcile upon watching your documentary.

Interested in learning more about making documentary films? Check out NYFA’s documentary filmmaking programs!

A Q&A With NYFA LA’s Chair of Documentary Filmmaking Barbara Multer-Wellin

Chair of Documentary Barbara Multer-Wellin recently sat down with NYFA reporter Joelle Smith to discuss the current state of non-fiction media content, her long love of filmmaking, and why Los Angeles is a great city for doc. Barbara Multer-Wellin has produced two films for the acclaimed PBS documentary series Independent Lens: “Taking The Heat: The First Women Firefighters of New York City,” narrated by Susan Sarandon and “Paul Conrad: Drawing Fire,” about the legendary editorial cartoonist. She won a 2013 Emmy for her work on the series television and web series “Your Turn To Care,” which was also the recipient of the Gracie Award.

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Joelle: How did you first get started in doc?

Barbara Multer-Wellin: Good question. I was always a political person. I was always very politically minded. I’ve been politically minded since high school.  I went to school for acting and political theater.

When I got out I happened to realize that political theater had a very limited reach. I happened to get hired as a researcher in HBO at Sheila Nevin’s (producer of “Cobain: Montage of Heck,” “Going Clear: Scientology Prison or Belief,” and “Citzenfour.”) department in my early twenties. That was an amazing experience. I was there for six or seven years.

I began to love documentary not just for its political message but also because documentary is such a wide tent. You can do romantic stories, you can cover history, you can do a portrait of a person or an event. For anyone who is curious about the world, documentary is the ultimate playground.

Joelle: When did you first fall in love with the craft of documentary?

Multer-Wellin: One of the early ones that really shook me was “Hoop Dreams.” There are several scenes in the film following the same families for six or seven years during a very tumultuous time in their lives.

Their kids had been recruited to suburban high schools to play basketball.  These two young men both hoped for careers in the NBA. They were being bussed out to the suburbs to play for these much, much wealthier schools.

It wasn’t easy. Their families were going through great difficulties. One marriage had broken up. The father had developed a drug problem and left the family. There’s a scene in the film where the mother of the family turns to filmmaker Steve James and says, “You don’t know what it’s like to try and raise a family on the amount that I get from public assistance. We don’t have heat and they’ve turned out the lights. How do I do this?”

My blood ran cold because I thought, ‘This is what real documentary is about.”

This is the relationship between a filmmaker and a subject that’s completely honest. That you may not have an answer for but you’re not dealing with an actor here. You’re dealing with someone who is actually struggling in their lives.  How do you portray that honestly? How do you not use that?

“Hoop Dreams” was one that made me realize the responsibility of the documentary filmmaker. Many years later I heard Mr. James speak and it’s true he still has relationships with those families. It goes beyond an actor who comes in for a day’s work and then goes home. You have a moral responsibility and an ethical responsibility not just to your subject but to your audience.

It’s such a multilayered relationship involved. I think it’s fascinating, tough, and beautiful all at the same time.

Joelle: How do you impart the ethical responsibility of the subject to your students here at the New York Film Academy?

Multer-Wellin: One of the first things we talk about in the documentary project is if you’re making a documentary about someone you’re either interviewing someone about the most difficult moment of their life or they’ve experienced history in a way that it’s probably the most important thing that’s ever happened to them.

You have to be first of all aware of that. Second of all, it is almost like the doctor’s oath, “First do no harm.”  Ask yourself, “Is anything in this film going to hurt the person when it gets out there?” Be very transparent about what the film is going to be and what you expect from your subject. You’re really making a film together.   

Now, I’m not talking about investigative films when you’re up again a big corporation or someone with great wealth and power. They have their own means to get to the press and protect themselves.

But if you are focusing on someone who is not a member of the public, is not a famous person, and has allowed you the great honor of sharing their story, you need to take that responsibility seriously.

Joelle: For students wondering how to break into the industry, what makes a great subject? How can students stand out?

Multer-Wellin: I think at this point that non-fiction content of all kind is in many ways, the most happening and most sellable content there is.

There are so many different ways to use the skills you develop in documentary. Whether you’re working for the NY or LA Times to make non-fiction media content or for so many non-profit organizations using non-fiction media. Do I need to mention Vice?  Nonfiction, on so many different platforms, is being watched more than ever before.

You know, when I was coming up people would say don’t use the “D-word.” Don’t call it a documentary.  That prejudice is dying hard but it’s dying fast.

If documentary isn’t the big seller in theaters it certainly is on television. In many ways I think it’s easier to break into documentary than fictional filmmaking.

Joelle: What roads would you encourage students to take as they’re breaking into the industry?

Multer-Wellin: Well, we’ve spent a lot of time talking to students about building social media profiles and about how to use crowd-funding platforms to support their work.

There’s the 1,000 fan theory that says if you can connect with at least a thousand people who will support your career, not just one project, but the entire scope of your career, then you’ll be able to fundraise and do your own projects. That’s not an easy thing to do so there’s got to be a balance between creating your own work and working for others.

Joelle: What advice do you have for people going out there and launching their projects?

Multer-Wellin: First of all, I think these days it’s necessary to have some sort of visual reel. In the old days, you could sell a concept off a piece of paper but those days are in the past.

Even if it is just a Skype interview with a really fascinating character, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the slickest thing.  But you do have to show people what you have in mind.

One good thing I think is really helpful is to try niche marketing. Find people who have a natural interest in your subject.  I have a friend who made a very successful film about mountain bikes and the history of mountain biking.  Mountain bikes were developed by a bunch of hippies in Marin County, California who were just riding around the hills up there. They developed a bike with the broader tire specifically for that purpose, which has really spawned this huge industry.

The filmmakers were able to talk to all the biking magazines, bike shops, and bike meet-up groups and put together a series of screenings across the country just starting with these bike enthusiasts and then it sort of graduated out from there. The film did extremely well and it gave them enough money to start their next project.

It’s enough to start with a niche market and build out. No matter what your subject is, it’s smart to find people who will always be interested in the subject. Reach out to organizations that want to support your topic and build from there.

Joelle: What are you doing here at NYFA that makes our program unique from others?

Multer-Wellin: I want to first say that a lot of people don’t normally think of Los Angeles as a documentary town. They think of us as Hollywood, but the truth is the International Documentary Association is headquartered here in Los Angeles. Many documentary filmmakers live here, Davis Guggenheim, Werner Herzog, Jessica Yu, Rory Kennedy and Penelope Spheeris, to name a few.

So, we have access to all of that. We go to many of the IDA events. We also have documentary filmmakers here at school all the time who come and screen their films. We have access to lawyers who deal with fair use and clearance experts who deal with finding and clearing footage. Not to mention distributors, producers, cinematographers, composers who work primarily in non-fiction.  The list goes on and on. All of that exists here in Los Angeles.

We try to keep a very professional sense of what we’re doing. We have just initiated a class in the second year of the MFA program where students produce pieces for a network or production company so before they leave they’ll have a professional credit along with their thesis films. There’s a lot going on here in LA.

Joelle: Final question: Which films would you suggest future NYFA students watch before they come to school?

Multer-Wellin: That’s a really hard question because there are so many. We have a history of documentary course that shows everything from “Nanook of the North to films that came out this year.

It’s important to understand there are many different ways to make a documentary and there are many different documentaries that can be made about the same subject.

There are things you need to learn about yourself as a filmmaker. There are questions of access. We talk a lot about how to specialize something; how to make it yours. I would come to NYFA with ideas and a sense of how you can explore that idea deeply.  We’ll help you take it from there.  

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Barbara Multer-Wellin for sharing her expertise with our community. If you’re interested in learning more about the documentary filmmaking program at NYFA, click here.

Are Food Documentaries Changing the Food Industry?

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While the purpose of a documentary film can vary, most documentaries are made with the intention of promoting one thing: change. By uncovering hidden truths and enlightening viewers with valuable information, a documentary filmmaker hopes to help people realize there’s a problem and do their part to fix it.

Shedding Light on Unhealthy Truths

Such is the case with food documentaries, which look to help audiences discover disturbing secrets about the very food we put into our bodies. Whether the focus is on unsanitary conditions of animals and overuse of chemicals or the complete lack of nutritional value in today’s fast food chains, these kinds of films want viewers to rethink if what they eat everyday is actually doing them good.

Of course, it’s not easy taking on arguably one of the most powerful industries on Earth. The food industry is a colossus, which means it’s to their benefit to keep unsavory facts about food production in the dark. Food documentary filmmakers certainly have their work cut out for them, but has their work actually shown signs of any impact?

You Are What You Eat

To answer that question, one must look at perhaps the most popular food documentary of all time: “Super Size Me.” This film follows a man on a 30-day diet consisting only of McDonald’s food. While eating three McDonald’s meals a day, he went from a healthy 185 pound weight to a heavy 215 pounds — all in one month.

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Despite walking 2,000 steps a day, which matches the average American’s daily physical activity, the man saw his fat content rise 7 percent and cholesterol rise 65 points, essentially doubling his risk of heart disease. The three doctors featured in the film were astounded by the change and even suggested he give up the diet to avoid health problems.

“Super Size Me” became a huge success, grossing more than $11 million in box office revenue. People were flooding into theaters to learn just how unhealthy the fries and burgers they’ve been eating themselves and feeding their children actually are.

Our Food Industry

Four years later, Robert Kenner released his own food documentary, titled “Food, Inc.” This film also struck chords across America, revealing the corporate side of food production. Viewers gasped as they saw the cruel treatment and sad, short lives of the animals eventually slaughtered, packaged, and distributed at stores to eat.

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The power of Kenner’s film is fueled by a simple, ugly reality: Finding meat that isn’t made from abused animals is difficult today. It was the perfect film to follow up “Super Size Me” because it helped audiences realize that just because they stopped eating at McDonald’s didn’t mean they’d solved the problem of supporting a controversial system within a controversial industry.

Making An Impact

Both of the food documentaries we mentioned managed to influence thousands of people across America. But it hardly matters if food production and consumer habits remain basically the same. So do food documentaries actually influence the food industry to change?

Between these two influential movies, the answer is yes. Change did happen. In the last decade we’ve seen more regulation of trans fats in food, including stricter nutritional labeling. Even McDonald’s has introduced healthier food options while also using their resources to educate children on eating correctly. They even cut ties with long-time egg supplier Sparboe Farms, who received backlash for alleged animal cruelty. And just this month the World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the idea of a sugar tax for sugary drinks. Food documentaries, and increased public awareness, are certainly behind this increase in conversation.

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The fact that “Super Size Me” and “Food, Inc.” alone helped create change in the world’s biggest food chain on the planet is a testament to the power of the food documentary. The fact that countless more food documentaries have been produced since them also helps prove one thing: Although slow and steady, food documentaries are making a difference.

Best of all, we’ve seen these game-changing films — and the makers behind them — have a direct positive impact on NYFA documentary students and alumni. Warrior Poets’ Matthew Galkin, is an instructor in our Documentary Filmmaking Department. This community connection to award-winning and active documentary filmmakers is only a small part of why the New York Film Academy’s Documentary Filmmaking School has been rated by Independent Magazine as among the 10 Best Documentary Programs.

What other ways have you seen food documentaries impacting the food industry? Have you personally felt influenced by a food documentary? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Prepare and Conduct a Documentary Interview

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You’ve got the story of the century and some great subjects willing to bare all on camera. It’s a one-time opportunity to make some great documentary footage, so here’s how to make sure the interview goes swimmingly.

Getting Set Up

As with any shoot — not just documentary interviewing — the key to perfect footage lies in the setup. A few things to consider:

Background: You’ll want think carefully about where you place your subject, both from an aesthetic and exposure point of view. It’s worth reading up on our guide to filming in natural light for an in-depth look at how your choice background can make or break a shot.

Multiple Cameras: Having two different camera angles (or perhaps one recording wide while another does close up) will give you additional options in the editing suite, as discussed in more detail further down. It’s standard practice to have the subject looking at you and at a slight angle to the camera rather than directly into it.

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Ambient Noise Level: Do a mental check of any background noise that might pose problems later on. It’s easy to overlook constant, low noises (like air conditioners) on the day, but they’ll stick out like a sore thumb when you listen back!

If time allows, try to factor in some time with the subject before the interview, especially if you don’t know them — it’s good to build rapport before you start firing questions at them, and it’ll help soothe everyone’s nerves … it can be quite an overwhelming experience for those who aren’t used to being interviewed! Finding small ways to make the process as comfortable as possible for your subject is always beneficial.

And of course, the main piece of preparation you need to focus on is the questions themselves…

Interview Preparation and Conducting

A few well-worded questions are all it takes to transform an interview from “good” to “great.”

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Naturally, what these questions will entail depends entirely on your subject and nature of the discussion, but some good rules of thumb on both the writing and asking of your questions include:

  • Avoid yes/no questions. Rather than, “Did you feel under pressure during the incident,” a more open-ended approach such as, “There must have been a lot of pressure on you during the incident,” will yield more usable results.
  • Have the interviewee repeat the question as part of his or her answer. You’ll find it much easier to edit afterwards since the context is built into what they’re saying.
  • Avoid interrupting. You can always make a cut when the answer goes on too long, but it’s much harder to edit around an interviewer’s interjections.
  • In fact, avoid making any sound whatsoever. Outside of actually asking the question, don’t make the mistake of adding non-verbal noises (such as “hmmm” or gasping) while listening to your subject.
  • Have a solid idea of where you’re trying to lead the interview. Think of your time with the subject as one part of the whole documentary; you’ll have a clear idea of the overall narrative, so use pointed, structured questions that’ll lead you neatly onto the next part of the film.

Knowing when to let things veer away from the prepared questions and when to bring things back is a skill that can only be learned with time and practice, but trusting your instinct will get you most of the way.

 

Get as Much B-Roll Footage as Possible

You may be absolutely riveted by your subject while conducting the interview, and with a bit of luck they’ll give you more useful material than you could ever hope to use in the final cut.

However, a static shot of someone talking isn’t always that appealing for long periods of time from the audience’s perspective. You’ll probably want to overlay contextual B-roll footage to illustrate what your subject is saying, give the viewer a visual break, and add a little flavor.

It’ll make your life a lot easier to get as much B-roll footage as possible ahead of time rather than heading back out during the editing phase, particularly if you want the subject to be in the footage themselves.

However, there will be moments where the interview gets really good and you don’t want to switch to B-roll, particularly in emotionally powerful moments. For that, you’ll want to use a slider.

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Creating Subtle Movement

If you want to zoom in on a subject (or pan across the room) during a documentary interview, you’ve got two options: manually zoom or move the camera, or make the adjustment during post.

The latter isn’t ideal from a quality point of view, and the former is tricky to do effectively on the fly (especially when you’re trying to conduct the interview at the same time).

The solution? Use a slider.

It’s a low-cost, highly effective solution that will add a level of dynamism to your interview footage.

Never Stop Filming!

It’s not uncommon (in fact, it’s usual) for the real gold to happen outside of the interview. Keeping the cameras rolling both during the setup and long after you’ve finished asking questions may prove to be the best documentary tip you ever implement.

Hopefully you’ll have way more footage than you’ll ever need, so now the fun begins: click here to read up on how to edit your interview footage for maximum impact.

Change the World: 5 Documentaries That Made a Difference (for Better or Worse)

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To change the world is a big goal, and yet documentary film can sometimes bring this goal within reach. One of the greatest strengths of the medium of documentary filmmaking is its ability to capture the cultural zeitgeist, as well as to bring an issue or a slice of society to a wider audience’s awareness.

The documentary format is generally meant to reflect impartially on its subject, but quite often the filmmaker influences events during the course of shooting … and on some occasions, the documentary itself ends up changing the world in a very tangible way. Here are five documentary films (plus some honorable mentions) that did exactly that.

*Warning: may contain spoilers.

1. “The Thin Blue Line” (1988)  

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Heralded by many as one of the greatest documentaries ever committed to celluloid, “The Thin Blue Line” followed the story of Randall Dale Adams, a man wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Filmed by ex-private detective Errol Morris, the documentary showed categorically that the case was corrupt through and through.

Did it change the world?

The documentary stirred massive awareness in the public regarding the case, which caused intense scrutiny on the ruling and led to the case being reopened. A year after the documentary screened, Adams was exonerated and released. This film may have had the largest impact on the life of just one man and his family, but its greater message is clear: even in the face of the entire judicial system, one man and a camera can make a difference.

Honorable Mention: The trilogy “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” shot in 1996, 2000, and 2011, which strongly influence the real-life case of The West Memphis Three.

2. “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006)

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This is the famous Academy Award-winning documentary charting former VP Al Gore’s campaign to raise awareness about global warming to citizens across the country. Producer Laurie David took on the project after being bowled over during one of Gore’s lectures, realizing that it could go on to inspire a wider audience.

Did it change the world?

David’s prediction was a success, given that his documentary inspired an outcry of conversation about global warming not just in the U.S. but around the world. According to an Oxford University study, three out of four people who had seen the film reported to have changed their consumer habits as a result.

3. “Blackfish” (2013)

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Seaworld has long been famous for its use of orcas in public entertainment, but what are the repercussions of keeping orcas in captivity? That’s the central question behind the 2013 documentary that got everyone talking — and got the Seaworld marketing staff a little hot under the collar.

Did it change the world?

In addition to countering many myths about orcas long held by the public (many of which were encouraged by SeaWorld itself), the documentary hit its mark; Seaworld profits, share values and attendance numbers tanked following the release of “Blackfish” — and SeaWorld is still struggling to revitalize its public image. While the top brass claimed this has all had nothing to do with “Blackfish,” they subsequently announced in March this year that they were ending all orca performances, and just this week it was reported that SeaWorld has official phased out its orca breeding program.

Honorable Mention: “The Cove,” which received an Academy Award for best documentary in 2010 and prompted a huge drop in Japanese dolphin fishing.

4. “Super Size Me” (2004)

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In which Morgan Spurlock famously ate at McDonald’s every day for a month, ingesting three meals per day at the chain (and nothing else). When asked if he wanted that meal supersized?  He had to say “yes.”

Did it change the world?

While one critic pointed out we all already knew that fast food is bad for you and many others highlighting that nobody should consume 5,000 calories a day without exercising, the documentary showcased the dramatic effect of this diet in a way that truly captured the public imagination. This film prompted a wider public discussion about the role of fast food chains in society. After the film’s release, McDonald’s removed the “supersize” option from their menu six weeks after the film’s premiere (while claiming it wasn’t a response to the film). They also added salads to their menu.

Honorable mention: 2005’s “McLibel” documentary, a David-and-Goliath tale covering the much maligned lawsuit of the same name.

5. “Triumph of the Will” (1935)

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Not all documentaries are a force for positive change. Some are used as propaganda, which is a stark reminder of just how influential and important a documentary can be — and why it’s critical that documentary filmmakers learn and practice their craft carefully.

“Triumph of the Will” is an example of how documentary film can be manipulated for dubious ends. Starring none other than Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Viktor Lutze, and other Nazi leaders, this WWII documentary was arguably one of the most effective propaganda films ever made.

Did it change the world?

The response to the film was monumental, and immediately after its release gained the Nazi party countless numbers of additional supporters and sympathizers. Leni Riefenstahl, the director, went on to be heralded as one of the finest female filmmakers of the 20 century mainly owing to technical and stylistic innovations in “Triumph of the Will,” but she was also demonized for her associations right up until her death in 2003 (aged 101). Dubiously honorable mention: Riefenstahl’s follow up propaganda film, “Olympia,” which covered the Hitler-attended 1936 Olympic Games, and is also recognized for its technical innovation (if not the content).

For better or worse, the impact these documentaries have made remind us all of the immense power and responsibility of documentary filmmakers. Whatever stories you choose to tell, remember that your film might just change the world.

More documentaries to consider that did their part to change the world: “Making a Murderer,” “The Jinx,” “Titicut Follies” and “Gasland.”

Has your life been strongly impacted or changed by a documentary film? Do you plan on making a film to change the world? Let us know in the comments below!